May 10, 2022 3.00 pm

PC gets second chance after accessing “sensitive” records for personal use

Chief Constable said the breach showed “lack of integrity”

A Lincolnshire Police officer has avoided possible dismissal for accessing “sensitive” force records for her own personal use.

PC Claire Riches, who is based in Boston, wept as she heard the outcome of a misconduct hearing will be a final written warning.

The hearing, chaired by Chief Constable Chris Haward at the force headquarters in Nettleham on Tuesday, was told PC Riches had no authority to search “sensitive” information, including about a person well-known to her, their ex-spouse and a family member of theirs.

It happened on eight separate occasions between September 2019 and February 2021.

However, an audit held by Lincolnshire Police found she had also looked up information on other people not known to her. On one occasion that involved details of an allegation of “a very serious offence”.

PC Riches admitted the allegations, which amounted to gross misconduct. Mr Haward said that gave him two options – dismissal or final written warning.

He told the officer he had changed his mind “multiple times” over the course of 90 minutes of deliberations.

But, he added, he had chosen not to dismiss her because there was “significant personal mitigation”, including mental health and traumatic issues which he had heard in private due to their sensitive nature.

Mr Haward said: “That did impact on your decisions during that period.”

He added: “The medical accounts that were presented to us in private session do account for some of the decisions that were taken but they don’t account for, or give mitigation to, searches for persons who had no connection to you.

“I have to conclude that the conduct was deliberate and sustained and, in many cases, you were unable to explain why you had conducted those searches.”

He told PC Riches she knew what she was doing was wrong but she had continued to act in that way.

The hearing was told her role as an intelligence analyst gave her access to the Niche records management system, which holds details of people who come into contact with the force either as a suspect, an aggrieved party or witness. It automatically provides regular reminders to users about acceptable use.

During the course of her duties, PC Riches had signed a form to say she had not accessed the records of any notifiable associates.

David Ring, who presented the case on behalf of Lincolnshire Police, said the nature of the information which she accessed and the number of times it happened were aggravating factors.

He said: “It’s accepted that the officer was unwell but we have information that suggests a relatively good level of support.

“If it was the case that PC Riches had significant fears such that would drive her to do something which she knew she was wrong, it may have been the opportunity to raise them. And we know she didn’t.”

The hearing was told those people whose records had been accessed had “strong feelings” about it happening. The level of harm was high, said Mr Ring.

Sgt Lee Willoughby, who was representing PC Riches on behalf of the Police Federation, declined to offer mitigation on her conduct.

Mr Haward said it had been “very difficult” to arrive at the outcome because he needed to protect and maintain the confidence which the public must have in the police service.

He found that PC Riches had demonstrated a lack of integrity with “clear breaches” of standards, policies and legislation.

He also decided she had not acted dishonestly as there was no evidence she had shared the information for any dishonest or corrupt purpose.

PC Riches had, said the chief constable, been honest and open during the investigation and shown “clear remorse”.

Telling the officer she was being given a second chance, Mr Haward concluded: “Your behaviour cannot be condoned but, with the circumstances that have been presented to me today, I do believe that a final written warning is the most appropriate action.”

It was a “fair and balanced outcome”, he added.